Stacy Ellingen

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Stacy's Journal: Weathering Storms

By: Stacy Ellingen
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Lately, it seems like all of the news coverage I’ve seen has been about the catastrophic storms that are happening around the world.  Back to back major hurricanes in the south, wildfires in the west, earthquakes in Mexico… it seems endless.  It’s true—disasters like these bring out the best in humanity.  The stories of survival and of people helping one another are truly amazing.  Having said that though, thousands of people’s lives have been turned upside-down.  Watching all of this has really made me think about what extra steps people with disabilities have to take when Mother Nature throws curve balls.

I’ve seen a couple of different posts on social media about extra precautions people with disabilities need to take when major storms hit.  Of course, needs widely vary depending on individual circumstances, but it’s recommended that everyone—especially those with disabilities—have a plan.  Obviously, it’s important to have things like extra food, water, and batteries on hand, but it’s often critical for people with disabilities to have items like extra generators and extra medication ready.  For people who rely on ventilators, backup generators are a must.

People who depend on others to help with personal cares needs have additional worries.  What if your care assistants can’t get to you?  How will you survive if nobody can get to you?  The answer to these questions again depend on individual situations, but it’s important that people have a backup plan in place.  People with mobility issues also need to think about how they would physically evacuate or take shelter if a major storm were to come.  It’s a lot to think about, but it’s so important to have a plan in place. 

In Wisconsin, it’s very rare that we get a real catastrophic storm.  It seems like every few years a part of the state gets hammered with a huge blizzard or a major thunderstorm/tornado.  While these storms aren’t usually too major, often times, they can cause some major obstacles for people with disabilities.  Personally, I think winter is the worst.  Between the bitter cold temps and the snow, I find it challenging to get out.  I don’t have this problem anymore, but when I was at UW-Whitewater, I never wore a coat or gloves—even in the dead of winter.  Yes, people thought I was crazy, but I didn’t have a way to bundle/unbundle when I got to class and home.  I hate being hot, so I wasn’t going to sweat to death waiting for my next care shift.  I usually got rides to/from class, but, admittedly, it wasn’t very smart.  Snow brings another whole set of challenges for people who use wheelchairs.  Sidewalks, curb cutouts, and ramps are often not cleared in a timely manner.  Depending on how much snow there is, it can be nearly impossible to get anywhere.

Summer thunderstorms and tornadoes can bring on obstacles as well.  Many people with disabilities rely heavily on electricity.  Whether it’s charging a power scooter, charging a communication device, or using it to keep a ventilator running, electricity is crucial for sustaining life for people who have disabilities and illnesses.  For me, when the power goes out, the first thing I worry about is my door to my apartment.  It’s an electronic door, so when the power goes out, I can’t open the door to let my staff in (I have a clicker on my chair that I push to open the locked door).  I do have a keybox outside of my apartment in case I’m unable to let people in, but it’s a matter of getting ahold of the person who is coming ahead of time, so they know what to do.

Tornado warnings are another interesting event when you have physical limitations.  Fortunately, there haven’t been too many tornado warnings since I’ve been living in my apartment.  There isn’t a basement where I live, so when there’s a tornado, I just go in the innermost room in my place which happens to be the bathroom.  If something were to really happen where I needed help, I always have my phone on my chair.  Another thing I have to worry about is when the weather gets bad (both in winter and summer), is whether people going to be able to get to my place to my help me.  Fortunately, I’ve never had somebody not be able to get to me due to weather conditions.  People have been really late because of the weather, but they eventually did make it.  If things were to get really bad where it was going to be really dangerous for people to travel, I’d probably make arrangements beforehand to either have somebody stay with me or to stay with someone so I could get the help I needed.

Major storms can cause havoc for everyone; people with disabilities often just have some extra things to figure out.  Planning and acting ahead of time can definitely help.  It’s known how unpredictable Mother Nature can be; it’s best to have an action plan in place! 

***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.


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